5 Beauty Mistakes You're Making That Are Terrible for the Environment—and How to Fix Them

Clean beauty, clean conscience.

Scary fact #1: We dumped about 292 million tons of waste in 2018, according to the EPA. Scary fact #2: As it stands, only 32 percent of waste is actually being recycled, according to the EPA. Unfortunately, your beauty routine has a major environmental impact, thanks to the overwhelming consumption of plastic and ingredients that may not be eco-friendly. Although it's important to note that being sustainable is more than just a trend—it's the right thing to do all year long—with Earth Day coming around, there's no better time to give your beauty routine an eco-friendly makeover. Here are five mistakes you're probably making right now, and the appropriate solutions to fix them.

01 of 05

You're not recycling your empties.

Let's kick it off with the most egregious beauty sin: not recycling your empties. Throwing your beauty products into the trash is a small move that has big consequences for our landmines and oceans.

The solution: Get yourself a dual compartment bin ($70; homedepot.com), that has a section for waste and another for recyclables. That way, when you go to throw any trash away, you'll be reminded to recycle whenever possible.

If you don't have a go-to source for dropping off your recyclables, beauty brands like Unilever have partnered up with Terracycle to collect hard-to-recycle items from around the world and convert them into consumer products. Not only will they pay for all shipping costs, they'll also make a donation to charity for each brigade collection they receive.

Also, keep an eye out for beauty brands that offer recycling options in-house. L'Occitane has a great initiative where you can take any full-sized product from any brand to the store and it will give you 10 percent off any new full-sized product you buy that day. Origins allows you to bring back any empty Origins containers to the counter and the brand will ensure they are recycled. And Back to MAC is a program that gifts shoppers a free lipstick once they have returned six full-size empties to the store.

02 of 05

You're buying from unsustainable brands.

The beauty world is full of murky waters, especially when it comes to product sourcing. From vaguely worded promises to unclear labeling systems, brands that tout "cruelty-free" can have some misleading fine print.

The solution: Do your research! Ensure the brand is truly cruelty-free and against animal testing. The leaping bunny symbol is a guarantee that none of the products have been tested on animals. Sephora also has a green checkmark indicating products that are free of certain questionable and unwanted ingredients. Put down any product that contains phthalates, mercury, toluene, lead, or formaldehyde, as these chemicals are considered to be some of the most damaging to the planet.

When you're shopping, look for sustainable beauty brands that have thoughtful packaging. Try to avoid Styrofoam, cartons, and PVCs where possible. Any packaging made with recycled material will be recyclable and likely list a disclaimer on the container. Case in point: Tata Harper's packaging is bottled in reusable and recyclable glass (with soy ink used for the labeling), while 85 percent of Aveda's skincare and haircare bottles and jars are made of 100 percent recycled materials.

03 of 05

You're using disposable makeup wipes every day.

As useful as single-use makeup wipes are, the cotton used to create makeup removal pads and buds are not biodegradable and don't easily break down, causing too much trash to stack up in our landfills. What's worse is that some are actually individually wrapped in plastic, doubling the amount of waste produced.

The solution: If you use a small mountain of cotton balls or wipes on the daily, consider switching to washable, reusable pads, like the Makeup Eraser Cloth ($20; sephora.com), that only require water to work. Not only will you be doing a huge favor for the environment, you also won't have to restock as often and you'll be saving your skin from all those harmful pesticides in regular cotton balls.

04 of 05

You're not taking advantage of refill programs.

Chances are you have some holy grail beauty products that you swear by—and you simply toss 'em and order another when you reach the bottom of the tube. Well, you might want to check if your favorites are refillable. More and more beauty brands are starting to offer intelligent refill systems that allow you to reuse your existing jars and containers.

The solution: Limit your packaging consumption with refillable makeup and skincare products. Myro, a chic deodorant company, has a subscription service that periodically sends you new scent cartridge refills that are ready to be popped in whenever you're running low. Rituals, an ayurveda-inspired bath and body brand, offers eco-friendly refills for their skincare and body products—just take out the bottom of the jar and replace. And Kjar Weis is a sustainable makeup brand with gorgeous compacts that can be used again and again. Simply remove the cartridge and refill with a fresh one when you hit pan.

But wait, there's more! Loop is a program that gives customers the chance to buy products from beauty brands, like Dove, Pantene, and The Body Shop, while renting the packaging. You just pay for the contents and a deposit for the bottle and it's delivered to your door via a carbon-neutral mode of transport. Let Loop know when you're running low, return the empty bottle to be cleaned, and they'll send a new product to you in reused packaging.

05 of 05

You're a serial beauty dater.

Every beauty lover is probably guilty of this one (myself included). Do you like to use different beauty products on rotation? From those products, do you tend to barely dip in before moving on the next one? If you've answered yes, you're a serial beauty dater. This mindset feeds into the buy-and-throw-away mentality, which takes a hard toll on the environment (and your bank account).

The solution: Streamline your beauty routine! A good system to practice: Only add one new product to your routine once you've finished another one.

If you want to experiment, try doing it with brands that remove packaging from its products altogether. Lush, Ethique, and Love Beauty and Planet all have shampoo bars that come wrapped in recyclable paper that clean your hair without ingredients that hurt the environment when they go down the drain. Meow Meow Tweet and Davines also has a wide range of products, from bar soaps to facial products, that utilize paper tubes instead of plastic.

Now, if you do have a stash of products you just don't want anymore, lilah b. has a system that takes away your unwanted beauty goods (even if it's not theirs) for free. Just e-mail declutter@lilahbeauty.com to receive a prepaid return shipping label and ship over your unwanted stuff. They'll work with a dedicated partner to process and recycle them so you get to declutter and give back to the system.

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  1. EPA, National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes, and Recycling. Accessed February 17, 2023.

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